What am I doing? I wonder while I walk up the stairs to the top floor of my building, where the editorial board for our company magazine Warp & Woof will later come together. Colleagues from different departments will decide on the articles for the next edition.
I’m early, but I already take a coffee. While I stare at the idyllic snowy landscape as the inland vessels follow the river, I lose myself in a daydream.
In days gone by, here grew, as far as you can see, flax on the banks, and now, not much of it is left. In its stead, you see buildings overtaking the banks year by year. When I started at Enosi, everything was much simpler and clearer. The landscape was open and free, just as in the company we all spoke the same language and obeyed the same rules. As long as you performed the known rituals, you were safe. We formed a close-knit community, and when others came to the company, we were careful, because they were foreigners who did not belong to our group—strangers we could figuratively undress or enslave. If we succeeded at this, we sometimes even celebrated with champagne.
Over the years, however, we have come to understand that all suppliers and customers are also real people. eventually, we started calling them partners, even though they have different habits than we do and they do not always understand us. To deal with that, we have learned to set up masks and let the outside world in while wearing our masks. We have several actors in our company who now each play their own part. One is aggressive toward the supplier while the other tempers that with serenity. Each and every one of us has a mask that fits best with our predispositions, upbringing, experiences, and hopes. Underneath that mask brood our unspoken emotions, insecurities, doubts, fears, and desires—all that I am prey to.
My head is full of anger after the collision with George. I am angry with George and myself. I don’t want to be angry, because that is not normal for me, but my tense shoulders and neck tell me otherwise. And the coffee does not taste good. “What should I do?” I say imaginarily to the skipper who, in the middle of the river, runs his ship with a thick, woolen scarf around his head.
I realize that George is actually a stranger to me. Whereas we should be partners by excellence, we are now almost outsiders with knives drawn at each other. “What is best for me?” I repeat, thinking of my future. “Will I go apologize to George, or will I persist in my own will?”
“You are early.” Charlotte suddenly brings me back, my feet on the ground. With sprightly steps, she enters the meeting room with a pack of papers on her arm.
“Yes” is the only thing I can stammer at the moment while I keep watching the ship following his path.
As she puts the papers on the tables, I think about how Charlotte, who has not worked at Enosi for a long time, joked about George last week with a worker. If she stood in front of George, would she say what she had to say? When would she feel safe speaking openly with him?
Back in my office, my computer screen indicates new email has arrived. Curious, I instantly look to see if the stranger sent me some more messages. Yes, goes my mind, and as enthusiastic as a child who has gotten a birthday present, I open the mail. It says, “The wind tells me, my friend, that there is a clash of egos both claiming to know the answer. As there is no mere authority that can proclaim the meaning of life, no one can say he has all the answers. What are you doing?”
“The meaning of life.” I slowly reread the message, trying to discover the message’s true meaning.
To be or not to be—that’s the question automatically pops up in my thoughts. Is that what this stranger is referring to? What does demanding my question of George have to do with the question of all questions? I ask myself.
In a reflex and without further thought, I answer the email. “I strive to be, to be free. Jack.”
As if we are in a chat session, a new email arrives after a few seconds. “Jack, nice try” pops up. “Many people indeed interpret ‘to be free’ as an ideal. However, we are sentenced to freedom, as Sartre says. Man realizes his being because his being is not having a being.”
In a reflex, I answer, “This I recognize if I look around me at how people live and work: we are not human beings, but human doings.”
Apparently undisturbed, the unknown thinker continues. “Jack, that’s a good one; we all are human doings. Everyone has the same uncertainty about the how and why of human life. We are therefore forced to examine together what the ideal is. The basis of this thinking is the principle of the equality of partners. Even though we are all different, young or old, man or woman, high or low on the social ladder, we are all equal in this quest.”
The telephone rings, and conditioned as I am, I pick it up automatically.
“Hi, Jack,” I hear Charlotte say on the other end of the line. “George asked that you come to his office immediately.”
“Well, I’m actually preparing for an important meeting tomorrow,” I say, telling a white lie.
“If I were you, I would put that work aside, as he sounded pretty decided when he asked me to call you,” I hear her say convincingly.
“Okay, I’ll come over. Do I have to put on my helmet?” I make a joke.
“I do not know, but I’ll stay in my trench,” she replies wittily incisively.
I put down the phone, take my coat, and hastily walk to George’s office. “Keep breathing, keep breathing,” I hear myself inspire me with courage while the snow crackles under my feet.
“Jack,” George begins immediately upon my arrival. He does not even invite me to sit down. “I have been thinking about our conversation this morning. I have a lot of problems with it. It’s unheard of that my decision, as general manager, is being called into question,” he says sternly.
Keep breathing, I think to myself again while I try to keep cool.
“More than that,” George continues vigorously, “you know we told you a while ago that you would be promoted to the management committee, but with your attitude as I experienced it today, I have my questions about your loyalty.”
I almost turn my head away for the figurative blow to my jaw. I feel as if I’m back in military service, where I stand as a cadet in front of an officer who spits at me literally and figuratively.
George goes on without hesitation. “I’ll give you another chance and ask you one last time to invite Thomas and hire him.”
I am completely baffled and cannot immediately say a word. In a fraction of a second, all kinds of thoughts flash through my mind. What should I do? What is good for me? Do I have to climb down and give George what he wants? If I do so, I lose face, but I secure my future career. Or do I have to persist and refuse again, knowing that in that case, I will never join the management team and, who knows, in the long run, be fired?
I feel like a rebel without a cause in the middle of a chicken run. As we head for the edge, the one who jumps is a chicken. But we are not teenagers who are bored and want to impress girls. We are both managers who are fighting for our future. If I give in, I am the chicken; if I stick to my idea, I may be dead here at Enosi. Whatever I choose, it’ll have a negative outcome for me. And at this moment, I find it impossible for me to step out of the game. Yet I have to do something right now.
Jack Grayson is the personnel manager at Enosi, a textile company with over eight hundred employees. As he battles an internal struggle with what he believes is ethical and right with the loyalty he should feel toward his boss, he soon begins receiving strange emails from a mentor who introduces him to the essence of selfishness and coexistence.
After Jack summons the courage to stand up for what he believes in while attempting to juggle the many demands of his job, he experiences a health scare. This not only provides him with much-needed insight, but also propels him onto an ambitious entrepreneurial adventure where he meets a monk who teaches him how to discover what his soul truly yearns for. Jack learns to take back control of his life, and is ultimately rewarded with a soul mate and professional fulfillment as everything in his universe opens again. Finally he figures out the four keys that help entrepreneurs to have an amazing life.
In this novel inspired by true events, a businessman embarks on a self-reflective journey that leads him to achieve more than he ever imagined.
About the Author
Patrick Verschelde is a respected business consultant who coaches entrepreneurs worldwide to renew their passion while discovering a new path to success, both professionally and personally. He currently resides in picturesque Belgium. For more about Patrick, visit www.patrickverschelde.com.